My wind tur­bine and me

Wind tur­bines have stirred up a hur­ri­cane of con­tro­versy – but not every­where. Julie Bro­minicks meets the Welsh hill farm­ers who have qui­etly em­braced them

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

Snow­do­nia is wild and high. Trees thrive in the val­leys but on ex­posed slopes they are twisted and bent. Rain clouds gather above pur­ple peaks, where the wind shrieks, and over the gul­lies, where it moans.

Small farms are dot­ted about the hills. They pro­duce lamb, mut­ton and beef – the slopes are too steep and the soil too thin to grow crops. Farm­ers dig stones from the soil and build them into walls. And re­cently, on a mod­est scale, they have be­gun to farm the wind.

There are no wind farms in the Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park, just soli­tary wind tur­bines be­long­ing to in­di­vid­ual farms. They’re small, stand­ing just 10–20m high, and pro­duce five to 10 kilo­watts of en­ergy, com­pared to the 100m-tall, 2.5-megawatt tur­bines used in the UK’s com­mer­cial wind farms. Na­tional Park guide­lines stip­u­late that the tur­bines are painted slate-grey to match the hills and the clouds, and must not stand proud of the sky­line. Each farm’s tur­bine is discreet among the barns and stony slopes. Some farm­ers

would pre­fer their tur­bines to be on windier hill­tops but, nev­er­the­less, they’re man­ag­ing to har­vest some­thing from the wind.

WIND FARM­ERS

Among those tak­ing ad­van­tage of wind power are three farm­ers within the Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park. Dil­wyn Pughe’s wind tur­bine pro­duces more elec­tric­ity than he uses at Rhi­wogof Farm. In the foothills of the Cadair Idris moun­tain, Rhi­wogof faces pre­cip­i­tous crags and over­looks Tal-y-llyn lake. Pen­coed moun­tain, which the Pughe fam­ily has farmed for over a hun­dred years, soars above the farm, dwarf­ing their tur­bine. “Lo­cal peo­ple have been very sup­port­ive,” says Dil­wyn. “There were a few ques­tions in the be­gin­ning be­cause peo­ple had vi­sions of big ugly things but this is very dif­fer­ent. It does make a bit of noise when it turns the pitch of the blades to slow it­self down but if it’s that windy, you can only hear the wind any­way,” says Dil­wyn.

At Es­gair­gyfela Farm, a few miles fur­ther south, three-year-old Cadi en­joys watch­ing her grand­par­ents’ wind tur­bine spin­ning. Her grand­mother Meinir Owen says it’s very sooth­ing. Meinir’s hus­band Dewi – whose grand­fa­ther bought Es­gair­gyfela af­ter the Sec­ond World War – is used to the wind. It races over his fields and over the River Dyfi be­low that me­an­ders its way through the es­tu­ary sands. To the Owens, the tur­bine looks as if it has al­ways been there. “When peo­ple come up here we ask if they no­ticed our wind tur­bine,” says Dewi. “And they al­ways say: ‘No, we haven’t seen it’.”

Bird’s Rock and the aqueous blue Dysynni Val­ley hills are over­looked by Rhyd-y-Criw or­ganic farm a few miles to the north, which has also had a tur­bine in­stalled. Third-gen­er­a­tion farmer Al­wyn Roberts has al­ways ad­mired wind tur­bines. “I love the idea of some­thing that can cre­ate en­ergy out of noth­ing,” he says. But he didn’t in­stall one just be­cause he likes them. The tech­nol­ogy had to be proven and the eco­nomics had to make sense.

Small fam­ily farms have been hit hard by cuts to EU sub­si­dies and the sin­gle farm pay­ment. Farm­ers are en­cour­aged to di­ver­sify to make ends meet. Some pro­vide hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion or work­shop space; oth­ers run cour­ses. But money can take a long time to trickle in and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of­ten re­quires ex­tra work. “If you’re stuck up in the moun­tains it’s hard. We al­ready work full-time. When re­new­able en­ergy came along, we saw a way of making an in­come that didn’t re­quire any labour from us and doesn’t use up valu­able space,” says Al­wyn.

The tur­bines are con­nected to the Na­tional Grid so when the wind isn’t blow­ing, the farms buy in elec­tric­ity as nor­mal. When the wind picks up, the elec­tric­ity they gen­er­ate is used on the farm. Sur­plus elec­tric­ity is sold to the Na­tional Grid at a guar­an­teed rate, called a Feed-in Tar­iff (see ‘Cost vs ben­e­fit’ on p62). The farm­ers also ben­e­fit from lower elec­tric­ity bills. The feed-in tar­iff lessens the fi­nan­cial risk of the in­stal­la­tion cost and halves the pay-back pe­riod to six to nine years.

Ev­ery­one is re­lieved by the in­creased en­ergy re­silience that their tur­bines pro­vide. “We did have an oil Ray­burn [range cooker],” says Dewi. “I used to buy oil at 16p per litre but over the last year it’s risen to 40p. Look­ing at the price of oil and heat­ing go­ing up, there’s a huge ad­van­tage to us­ing

RHI­WOGOF FARM

An­nual sav­ings £3,000

Rhi­wogof is farmed by the Pughe fam­ily: Dil­wyn, 37, Eleri, 37, En­lli 10 and El­gan 2. It over­looks Tal-y-llyn Lake in the foothills of Cadair Idris moun­tain. The farm is in a Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est within the Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park. The Pughes farm 500 breed­ing ewes and 24 suck­ler cows on 1,000 rugged acres of Pen­coed moun­tain­side, near Pen­nal. Next, they plan to in­stall a biomass heat­ing sys­tem pow­ered by their own wood.

“I love the idea of some­thing that can cre­ate en­ergy out of noth­ing”

ES­GAIR­GYFELA FARM

An­nual sav­ings £8,000

Meinir Owen (left, 58) and Dewi Owen (61) farm at Es­gair­gyfela, which over­looks the Dyfi Val­ley near the west coast of Wales, bor­der­ing the Snow­do­nia Na­tional Park and the UNESCO Dyfi Bio­sphere Re­serve. The Owens’ three daugh­ters and their fam­i­lies live nearby. They farm 350 acres and keep 500 ewes and 12 pedi­gree Charo­lais cows. They also plan to in­stall a biomass heat­ing sys­tem us­ing their own tim­ber for fuel, later this year.

RHYD-Y-CRIW FARM

An­nual sav­ings £6,000

The Roberts fam­ily farm here: Al­wyn (46), Karen (39) and their four chil­dren (be­tween the ages of four and 13) Cerys, Sarah, Gethin and Ieuan. Rhyd-y-Criw is an or­ganic farm in the Dysynni Val­ley near Llane­gryn vil­lage by the coast. The Roberts keep 600 sheep and 70 cat­tle on 300 acres. The favourable coastal cli­mate al­lows them to grow bar­ley for the cows, chicory for the lambs and seed grown to en­cour­age yel­lowham­mers. en­ergy that you gen­er­ate on the farm. It en­ables us to use the nat­u­ral re­sources that are avail­able to us.”

The wind tur­bine al­lowed the Owens to re­place their oil-range cooker with an elec­tric Aga. The Aga uses cheap­rate elec­tric­ity at night and re­leases heat dur­ing the day, when Meinir bakes her cel­e­brated cakes. “Ev­ery af­ter­noon we come in and have some tea and cake, usu­ally bara brith or sponge. We call them wind cakes now,” says Dewi with a chuckle.

SMALL IS BEAU­TI­FUL

Farm­ers ap­pre­ci­ate that all ma­chines break down oc­ca­sion­ally, which is why Al­wyn, Dewi and Dil­wyn all chose a lo­cal com­pany, Anemos Renewables, to in­stall their tur­bines. “If there’s a prob­lem, they’re up here in half an hour – it’s the ben­e­fit of shop­ping lo­cally,” says Dil­wyn.

Al­wyn’s tur­bine needed a bear­ing re­plac­ing once but, apart from that “there’s noth­ing else really to go wrong with it,” he ex­plains. “I’ve had a look in­side and I’m hop­ing mine will go well past its pre­dicted 20-year life­span. Even then I’ll have the scrap-metal value.” The same, he points out, can’t be said of nu­clear power sta­tions, which swal­low sub­si­dies and can take 200 years to de­com­mis­sion. “With nu­clear or frack­ing I’d be wor­ried about af­fect­ing some­one in the next val­ley. With wind, the only im­pact is vis­ual.”

Small is beau­ti­ful. None of the three farm­ers ap­proves of big en­ergy projects that, they say, suck money out of the UK. They are proud to have bought their tur­bines from a lo­cal com­pany. “Farms are good at spend­ing money in the com­mu­nity,” says Al­wyn. “We need hedg­ing, ma­chin­ery, labour, stone walling… When we get money, we spend it on im­prov­ing the farm. For me it’s im­por­tant to keep lo­cal busi­nesses go­ing. With small projects like this, the money’s all go­ing back into the com­mu­nity.”

At Rhi­wogof, Dil­wyn Pughe’s wind tur­bine glints in the light. A dis­tant wind rip­ples the sur­face of Tal-y-llyn lake and whis­tles around Pen­coed. “We’ve had our tur­bine since be­fore lit­tle El­gan was born two years ago” says Dil­wyn. “He’ll grow up with­out think there’s any­thing un­usual about it. And as for me, when I imag­ine what my grand­fa­ther would make of it, I think ‘yes – he would have ap­proved of the tur­bine’,” says Dil­wyn.

Is this the fu­ture? Discreet wind tur­bines can blend into the tran­quil land­scape while pro­vid­ing a sur­plus of en­ergy, such as at Rhi­wogof Farm in Snow­do­nia

Julie Bro­minicks worked in sus­tain­abil­ity ed­u­ca­tion be­fore be­com­ing a land­scape writer and walker based in Snow­do­nia.

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